A number of communities have invested in municipally owned infrastructure for broadband delivery both in Alberta and, more broadly, nationally and internationally. The reasons for local investment in a communications network vary, but frequently include economic development, affordability, and improved access to education, healthcare, and social services.
There are multiple community broadband projects either completed or underway in the United States. According to the Institute for Local Self Reliance there are:
83 communities with a publicly owned FTTH network reaching most or all of the community.
77 communities with a publicly owned cable network reaching most or all of the community.
Over 185 communities with some publicly owned fiber service available to parts of the community.
Over 115 communities with publicly owned dark fibre available.
Over 50 communities in 19 states with a publicly owned network offering at least 1 Gbps services.52
Several municipal governments and local economic development authorities in Alberta are either actively exploring community broadband options, or undertaking broadband projects, that follow a variety of possible models. For example, the RedNet partnership manages and operates a fibre loop serving the City of Red Deer, Red Deer Library, Red Deer Public Schools, and Red Deer Catholic Schools. As a consortia, they share networking services via the RedNet network. As of June 2016: St. Albert is in the process of procuring services to install fibre for stage 2 of its city fibre optic network;53 the City of Calgary has made dark fibre available for lease54; and the Lethbridge Electric Utility has provided dark fibre services to public oriented organizations within the City of Lethbridge.55
In early 2016, the Alberta Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, in conjunction with University of Alberta professors Dr. Michael McNally and Dr. Rob McMahon, conducted 8 consultations with Regional Economic Development Authorities (REDA) across the province on the topic of network infrastructure. The goal of the initiative is to produce and make available a “Getting Started - Building a Broadband Consensus” document for communities and the general public by the end of October 2016.56
A robust and promising approach to developing municipal broadband projects involves consolidating and organizing efforts into regional alliances of local government representatives. This approach was successfully followed by K-Net, based in Sioux Lookout, Ontario; the Eastern Ontario Regional Network; and the SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology network (SWIFT) in Ontario. The Alberta SouthWest Regional Alliance, through its Broadband for Economic Development (B4ED) initiative, focuses on developing a regional strategy to drive development and the application of broadband networks for the purpose of economic and community development. The Alberta Southwest Regional Alliance compiled five business models for community broadband deployment,57 which were presented to the Van Horne Institute's Digital Futures symposium in March 2016. In addition to the Alberta SouthWest Regional Alliance, a number of other REDAs are in various stages of conducting broadband preparedness assessments. These REDAs have shown an interest in policies that facilitate broadband deployment, such as “dig once” requirements, which entail deploying fibre infrastructure or at least conduit any time a construction project is initiated.
The Van Horne Institute’s biannual Digital Futures symposia on rural broadband regularly feature discussions around: broadband and socioeconomic development; building the business case and models for a networked community; technical considerations around community broadband projects; and the policy and regulatory landscape. These events are well attended by municipal politicians and representatives of regional economic development authorities.
52. Institute for Local Self Reliance. Community Network Map, October 2015. Accessed 10 June 2016.
53. Alberta Purchasing Connection. Installation of Fibre Optic - Reference AB-2016-03817. Accessed 6 June 2016.
54. City of Calgary. Submission regarding notice no. DGTP-002-2015 Petition to the Governor in Council concerning Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2015-326, 21 December 2015. Accessed 8 June 2016.
55. Call Me Power. City of Lethbridge Electric Utility, 15 December 2015. Accessed 8 June 2016.
56. Dr. Michael McNally. E-mail correspondence, 4 July 2016.
57. Bob Dyrda. Alberta SouthWest Broadband for Economic and Community Development, 8 March 2016. Accessed 13 May 2016.